Adeniyi’s Giant Strides at Nigeria Customs

The Nigeria Customs Service under Bashir Adewale Adeniyi, has undergone internal process of rebirth, massive reforms, which focused on core values of service efficiency, trade facilitation, plugging revenue leakages. The reforms has transformed the service and improved revenue generation, writes Eromosele Abiodun

Like many agencies of the federal government, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in the last few years lost focus and needed massive reforms. There were reports of sundry misbehavior by men of the NCS. The Lagos-Badagry Expressway and Apapa-Oshodi Expressway were littered with roadblocks where extortion and all manner of activity took place. A certain strike force took over the job of Federal Operations Units across the country and the service generally lacked direction. As part of his effort to rebuild the Nigerian economy, the government of President Bola Tinubu wanted a customs that will contribute massively in terms of not just revenue generation but trade facilitation. So, on July 18, 2023, President Tinubu approved the appointment of Bashir Adewale Adeniyi as the Ag. Comptroller General of the NCS. About two months after, the President via a letter issued by the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), announced the confirmation of Adeniyi as the CG, effect from October 19, 2023. Adeniyi’s appointment was seen as a major move to resuscitate the service after several years of inept leadership. For most operators in Nigeria’s supply chain segment, the appointment of Bas Adeniyi remains unarguably, one of the best made by Tinubu since he assumed office on May 29, 2023.  This general conclusion stems from the timing and appropriateness or fitness for the job. For the timing, the appointment brought to an end the eight-year era of militarised Customs Service, which had put officers, men of the service and even stakeholders on edge while it lasted. This in no little measure, brought about despair, poor motivation, with the attendant toll it took on service delivery, trade facilitation, among several others. In terms of fitness/appropriateness, the appointment was that of the best man for the job or what many of the stakeholders have described as a round peg in a round hole. This is given that Adeniyi grew through the ranks across different commands.  Adeniyi possesses years experience in customs administration covering strategic and operational responsibilities. He posses deep understanding of the complex and constantly evolving international trade landscape. He has strong command of Customs regulations, laws, and procedures as well as the ability to navigate and adapt to changing policies and regulations. He has demonstrated excellent communication and leadership skills responsible for leading teams of customs officials, working closely with stakeholders across a variety of industries. Adeniyi built strong relationships with stakeholders and collaborated effectively to ensure efficient and effective movement of goods across borders, over the course of his career. He has a keen eye for details and ability to identify potential risks and areas of non-compliance. This is evident in effective risk management strategies, guidance and support developed and implemented for his teams to ensure that all customs procedures are followed accurately and efficiently. Little wonder, Adeniyi, hit the ground running, as he left no one in doubt that he was very conscious of the arduous and enormous task of repositioning and refocusing the already balkanised service.

Bottom-up approach

In his maiden address to the officers and men of the service on his resumption tagged, “Embracing a new era of excellence,” he said: “Today, we stand at the precipice of an exciting future, one that builds upon the achievements of the past and takes us even further. Our administration is committed to adopting a bottom-up approach, where the needs of our dear nation take precedence over everything else. We will prioritise efficiency in service delivery as the bedrock of trade facilitation and revenue generation. No longer shall encumbrances impede trade; we shall dismantle obstacles and foster a new culture of consultations and compliance.

“In order to achieve our objectives, it is imperative that we bridge the current human resource gap within our ranks. We recognise the importance of capacity building and career advancement for our officers. The administration will work diligently to implement career advancement opportunities approved by the board, ensuring that competence remains the sole criterion for assigning responsibilities and measuring effectiveness. Our focus is on cultivating a highly skilled workforce that is equipped to face the challenges of a rapidly changing world.”

Eight months down the line, Adeniyi has lived this talk, as can be seen from what he is doing so far.  For instance, in addition to addressing the issue of poor remuneration of the personnel, which was typified in the payment of 13th-month salary, the management has embarked on what many have described as an ambition housing scheme for the personnel. Under this scheme, the service is in partnership with the Cooperative Mortgage Bank CMB for the construction of a total of 5, 009 housing units nationwide. The scheme would provide various types of one-bedroom bungalows, two-bedroom semi-detached bungalows, three-bedroom semi-detached and semi-detached bungalows and four-bedroom bungalows, among several others for different cadre of personnel.

As a team player, who is conscious that every unit within supply chain plays crucial role for the overall efficiency of the entire trade circle, Adeniyi on assumption of duty, reached out to every segment of the industry and even beyond, engaging in partnerships with purpose. It is on record that the service under his supervision entered into such synergies with the Nigerian Army in an effort to curb smuggling. Specifically, the NCS under his supervision recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) as part of measures to forestall the smuggling of vehicles through which the Federal Government has lost huge sums of money from import duty on imported motor vehicles, among several other partnerships. One of the most important and strategic partnerships is that with the Nigerian Ports Authority NPA, which both parties renewed recently in line with efforts to boost non-oil exports, especially agro- allied products and also facilitate trade.

Synergy with Stakeholders

The renewed synergy was voiced when the Managing Director/CEO of NPA, Mohammed Bello -Koko visited the CGC in Abuja, August last year. This renewed partnership with purpose focuses on enabling the ease of processing export products by eliminating all procedural bottlenecks that constitute delays and affect the competitiveness of Nigerian goods especially agro-allied products in the international market place.

The Customs-boss, who commended the NPA for creating Export Processing Terminals (EPTs), which have advanced the fortunes of non-oil exports, assured that the service was finalising efforts at streamlining the multiplicity of Customs Units / checkpoints, evacuation of overtime cargo from the ports, speedy relocation of the Customs facility standing on the rail link of Apapa Ports and resolving all challenges to pave way for the optimisation of Ikorodu Lighter Terminal.

Adeniyi has also within the last eight months, lived up to his pledge to ensure effective implementation of the new Customs Act 2003, signed into law by former President Muhammadu Buhari. In addition to providing for modernised Customs operations, the new legislation ushered in substantial modifications to the previous protocols governing the disposal of overtime cargo. Part of these provisions of the NCS Act 2023 mandates the disposal of cargo exceeding its allotted time, which can now be disposed of only through a court order. The new Act further provides that such goods must be disposed of through widely publicised public auction or tender.

It was in order to enforce these provisions of the new legislation that the CGC convened a meeting with stakeholders in Lagos to address the urgent need for the evacuation of more than 7,000 overtime containers that have remained for years across the ports over the years, which had also constituted a clog on the wheel of efficiency of the seaports and terminals. Additionally, there were also discussions on 48-hour Customs cargo clearance in line with efforts to facilitate trade.

Trade Modernisation Project

The Comptroller General has also within the short period of time, through the instrumentality of synergy, substantially cleared several of the illegal checkpoints on the Lagos-Abidjan trade corridor, which had before now, constituted a serious hindrance to free flow of legitimate trade. The Customs management is currently optimising implementation of the Nigeria Customs Service Trade Modernisation Project TMP, which is aimed at further promoting trade facilitation. When fully operational, the project would enhance a unified Customs management system, trade portal, and cargo release system. These come alongside other automation services such as big data and artificial intelligence AI, integration and document management system, as well as transition and handbook, which covers technology upgrades and enhanced capacity building. The project, which has received a major boost in the last eight months, has severally been identified as a milestone, as it highlights the significance of digitisation for transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness of port operations.

The N5.079 Revenue Target

Recently, the Senate approved a total of N5.079 trillion as a revenue target for the service for the 2024 fiscal year. This target, which is the highest in the history of the service, follows the superlative revenue performance of most commands, which far exceeded their targets for the previous year, having been given both operational and financial incentives, which boosted the morale of the personnel.

Similarly, the upper legislative chamber approved a N706.4 billion as budget for the Service for the 2024 fiscal year. A brief analysis of the budget shows one that focuses on developmental and infrastructural projects for the service, as capital expenditure far outweighs current, which is very good for the service. For instance, personnel and overhead costs stood at N225.99billion and N111.76 billion, representing 31.99 per cent and 15.82 per cent respectively of the budget. Also, ongoing capital projects stood at N148.42 billion while new projects, which represents 52.19 per cent, earmarked for N220.26 billion, which financial experts have described as a healthy budget.

In terms of revenue generation, the service in the 2023 fiscal year achieved a revenue milestone of N3.2 trilion, which represents a 21.4 per cent growth when compared to the N2.64 trillion recorded in the preceding 2022 fiscal year. This revenue performance remains a remarkable feat, considering that the service recorded a N532 billion revenue shortfall as against the projected N1.84 trillion in the first half of the year, about the same Adeniyi was appointed CGC. Reacting to the superlative revenue performance unveiled last month, he said: “This is definitely a remarkable achievement, given the low cargo volumes recorded in the 2023 fiscal year coupled with the harsh operating environment, operational challenges and other socio-political factors.” He however assured that the service would do even better in the 2024 fiscal year.

Recently, the Bashir Adewale Adeniyi –led management of the service took further steps to consolidate the milestones already achieved in its anti-smuggling campaign with the proposed deployment of virtual reality technology to boost trade efficiency and smuggling control.nAs part of efforts to achieve these, the service has commenced collaborations with the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and the CCF of Korea. This synergy will also include other technological advancements, including training of officers on radioactive elements to prevent smuggling.

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